Dell lets managers go 'off road' with self-serve analytics

Dell is bringing analytics directly to the desktops of its managers, and saving money in the process

By , IDG News Service |  Business Intelligence

Once upon a time within Dell, managers who needed a business analysis report had to put in an IT request, a drawn out process that drove business units to set up their own shadow IT systems to run these numbers instead.

Now each business unit at Dell can build its own analytic reports, dashboards and applications, without the nod of approval from the head of IT operations.

As a result, the time it takes to develop new analysis at the computer technology company has dropped by 70 percent. At least one department--marketing--has seen productivity improve by four percent using this approach.

"We're not telling the businesses not to build shadow IT. We're just asking them to build it on our infrastructure," said Rob Schmidt, an executive director of IT for Dell.

Like many organizations, Dell is deluged with data that could be used to increase business. But it also needs to tightly manage its IT systems to keep costs in check. Sometimes the two goals conflicted.

To manage its IT operations, Dell maintains a long term strategic road map, specifying which platforms should be used for various aspects of operations. The company managed this road map through the CA Technologies' Clarity program management software.

"If it's not in Clarity, I can't work with it," was the phrase that business unit managers often heard when asking for some new capability, Schmidt said. "If you wanted new analytics, historically, you had to be on my road map." The company's enterprise data warehouse (EDW) was the canonical source of BI info within Dell, and getting new reports from the EDW required going through IT operations. In other words, get in line. And wait.

Instead, many Dell business managers went their own way--setting up departmental BI systems that copied data from the EDW. Collectively, they had spent up to $70 million developing their own capabilities, Dell had estimated in 2012 study. At least $50 million of this money was spent duplicating data from the EDW.

The Dell business managers were not alone in this practice. Over the past few years, a new crop of BI vendors have sprouted--such as QlikTech and Tableau--that tailor BI tools specifically for business units, rather than for establishing enterprise-wide BI operations, noted Wayne Eckerson, founder of BI Leader Consulting.

Such tools are relatively easy to deploy and use, and they often got managers the results they needed quickly, even if their use could potentially raise costs overall for an organization in that they could lead to a lot of duplication of effort, and data.

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